Notes from the PR and New Media Summit


I’m at the PR and New Media Summit in Sydney, organised by frocomm. The delegates, drawing on frocomm’s market presence, are primarily in-house PR people, with a good represention of government departments as well as corporates. The initial show of hands on how many people read blogs (a few), write blogs (almost none), listen to podcasts ( fair few), or create podcasts (reasonable smattering), indicates most here are here to learn. Australian organizations have In the main been slow to engage externally with social media, though more case studies are becoming visible.

Ross Monaghan’s engaging opening presentation gave a broad overview of the scene, including showing the audience Michael Wesch’s marvellous Teaching the Machine video. He also shared results from a survey the conference organizers had recently run, with notably 55% of CEOs saying they couldn’t see the value from new media. He did use quite a few examples of how organizations including Southwest Airlines, General Motors, and others, though unfortunately no Australian cases.

Rob Shilkin, Google’s head of corporate communications for Australia, spoke about the proliferation of online information and how that changes communication management. Some of the interesting statistics he gave us included that 32% find the web as the most trusted source of information, ahead of any other medium including newspapers. YouTube has 7 million hours of video online, with 7 hours uploaded every minute. Rob suggested that the three tomes for our times are Wikinomics by Don Tapscott, The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, and The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. He said that politicians are surprising role models in the space, with politicians in most countries around the world engaging in a wide range of online initiatives, almost invariably including YouTube channels, with benefits of seeming cool, reaching niche audiences, creating a sense of personal engagement, and very importantly being able to respond immediately to attacks by the opposition. Another example was a video by JetBlue’s CEO apologizing for its mistakes, He concluded that every corporate communication function should have a blog and a video camera, even if it’s just for crisis response, pointing out that being the first in your industry to post a CEO video on YouTube will undoubtedly get positive attention. When asked about measuring the impact of social media initiatives, Rob said that Eric Schmidt, in response to the same question being asked by Google’s internal PR team, responded “just look at the volume of the shouting.”

Next up I was on the panel on strategic thinking about new media, with blogger and independent consultant Trevor Cook, Rod Bruen, editor of Telstra’s, and Adrian Christie, head of PR for Sony Computer Entertainment. We were initially asked about how to start a conversation. Rod said ‘Just do it’ – don’t make it a really big thing which is agonized over forever when it doesn’t have to be. Adrian said you need to maintain the conversation, not just start it – initiatives need to be sustainable. In response to a question on risk, I said that the bigger risk is not being involved, and the other panelists agreed. Telstra had seen that consumer perceptions of the company had sunk below that of the major banks (extremely low in Australia), so there was little to lose. Rod thinks Telstra haven’t taken many risks in having an open forum – they have taken a few things down because of legal risks, but think that the risk is over-rated. Sony Australia has to take account of their parent’s direction, because what is done in Australia is seen globally. – a fake blog – got a lot of negative flack. A government agency in the audience asked about how to do things when there is great internal conservatism. I suggested that government, as representatives of the people, should be ahead of corporations in engaging with their communities. Telstra has used the mainstream media to promote its social media site, getting media mentions of its blog site in most weeks. Adrian said that if you monitor comments too closely you’ll stand out like a dad at a disco. In fact a healthy community will push back against people who post unwarranted criticism. gets 25,000 unique visitors a week, which is small, but the right people are reading it. Telstra didn’t succeed in getting a customer service conversation going themselves, perhaps partly through lack of internal drive, so a new independent (and rather negative) site on Telstra service is getting traffic and discussion that could have been within the Telstra fold. Adrian also noted that social media is not just for the kids, this is a phenomenon that touches all demographics.

The editors of (Bruce Belsham) and (David Higgins) both spoke about how rapidly Australian online news traffic is growing, with in particular experienced 2000% growth in video use last year. However the trend in the US is for online news traffic to be ‘witheringly competitive,’ resulting in a plateauing of traffic. An increasing proportion of the traffic is coming from search engines, changing the nature of online news. Online news sites need to market well, including search engine optimization. Watching traffic too closely can push news sites to the lowest common denominator, but online publication also allows experimentation and new forms. Online editors can and do edit the site real-time depending on traffic flows to particular stories. Sensitivity to the audience is increased, not just by monitoring traffic, but also online audience response, which can be quite different. One editor said he’d worked with an online editor who’d said ‘if it’s wrong, it’s not wrong for long.’ There is no easy balance between the speed required for online news and accuracy. Journalists are been retrained as multimedia journalists. As often in these discussions, conversation turned to how quality journalists be paid for, and how online media can sustain itself without being cross-subsidized by other media. And of course the issues usually brought up in a discussion of citizen journalism by professional editors of credibility, news recycling, source access and so on.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay for the afternoon, which promised a cornucopia of interesting case studies, including how the Church of Scientology turned the cameras on the BBC Panorama crew that was covering them, and broadcast the reporter ‘losing it’ on YouTube.

As a counterpoint, here’s part of BBC Panorama program:

PS Trevor Cook has also blogged about the event:

Rob Shilkin

ABC and News


Panel session